It’s entirely possible to pursue amazing things in the music industry while earning. Learn a lot of valuable insights from Emily White as she dives deep into building a sustainable music career and collecting all revenue streams. Emily is a Founding Partner at Collective Entertainment and the Founder of #iVoted Festival, whose 2020 edition was the largest digital concert in history. She talks about her professional journey and shares why she’s very interested in the business side of the music industry. She also reveals her best practices and techniques, so don’t miss this podcast!
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Building A Sustainable Music Career And Collecting All Revenue Streams With Emily White
I am excited to be here with Emily White, the Founder of Collective Entertainment. She’s also a best-selling author of a book that I know you are going to be excited to know because it’s all about income streams and making sure that you collect all of your money, which you know I am all about. She has also founded something called Get Out The Vote Festival, which I’m interested to find out more about. Let’s get started. First of all, Emily, I would love to know a little bit about your background. What is your musical background? How did you get involved in the music industry? Give us a little bit about your journey up to here.
I am classically trained in piano and know my guitar chords, but I’m not talented at all. I was always very interested in the industry on the business side. I went to Northeastern University and studied in their Music Business Program and did a lot of internships. My first book is called Interning 101. My first internship was at Powderfinger Promotions, which I got through the school. They do college radio promo and PR. After that, I interned at WBCN in Boston. Rest in peace. It was an amazing legendary radio station. I worked at an indie label outside of Boston called Q Division. After that, I worked at what’s now Live Nation Artists and also worked at a few clubs northeastern in Boston, and that’s why all this stuff was there.
That following summer, I went to New York and interned at VH1 Classic. That fall, I came back to Boston and met a band called The Dresden Dolls. I started working with them when I was twenty. We grew up professionally together. I became their tour manager, day-to-day manager, or their manager. In between all of that, I also did an internship in London at MTV and VH1. I did graduate but didn’t walk because The Dresden Dolls were starting a three-continent tour with Nine Inch Nails. On the day I was supposed to walk, we were at Coachella.
By then, The Dresden Dolls took on management, and I’m forever grateful they went with a guy named Mike Luba who hired me to work at his company, Madison House, which had in New York office at the time. I toured, managed the band, and went all over the world. When I wasn’t on the road, I would be working in the office doing day-to-day management for the band. I did that until I retired from tour management at 23. I started working full-time at Madison House. That’s where I got my management shops and worked with a lot of great artists.
Around that time, I wrote a name-your-own-price business plan for Amanda Palmer, the singer of The Dresden Dolls. In 2007, I saw a fan come up to her at a show and give her a check for a few hundred dollars and say, “I want to support you and your art.” She had her first solo album coming out, and I knew the label would never let us do this, but I was like, “Why can’t we put it up as a zip file and have it be a suggested donation? It’s how museums operate.”
I presented that to my two bosses at the time. Luba was like, “This is amazing. Let’s get on a call.” The other boss was like, “This will never work. Go back to working on your artist.” I was working on it in my spare time when Radiohead’s In Rainbows came out with the exact same concept. My naysaying boss’ favorite band is Radiohead.
When I came into the office that day, he was like, “Radiohead stole your idea.” That was his acknowledgment of like, “Maybe I should pay attention to this.” I mentioned that because Luba was going to work at Live Nation Artists in 2008, which was a $500 million division of Live Nation where the first signees were Madonna, U2, and Jay-Z. Luba passed along my business plan to Bob Ezrin, who produced Pink Floyd’s The Wall, amongst many other things.
Bob was heading up the recording division for Live Nation Artists. I picked up and moved to Miami, which is where this was based. Going into it, I was like, “This is either going to be the biggest thing ever or a big disaster, but if it’s a disaster, it will be a great learning experience.” I was 24, so I treated it like grad school. I worked on the Zac Brown Band down there. I didn’t know anything about country music.
My boss sent me like, “You know how to use the internet, so we’re going to give Zac to you.” I was like, “What are his ticket counts in Nashville?” The answer was 40. I was like, “We have some work to do.” We were all working hard when there were rumors in the Wall Street Journal that Michael Cole, who’s the Rolling Stones’ longtime promoter and running our division, wasn’t getting along with Michael Rapino. We were all laid off one day, seven months into being there.
I started my first management firm immediately after that. It’s called Whitesmith Entertainment, and we manage musicians and comedians. I expanded in sports in 2012 because I came from a family of coaches and was on an athletic scholarship in college. We did that for a decade until my longtime business partner left management. I partnered with a few proteges to launch Collective Entertainment saying on the one hand, “I want this to be whatever you want,” on the other, “I’m moving our music and sports divisions over.”
That was in 2018, which is also around the time we launched the #iVoted Festival. We started by activating over 150 concert venues in 37 states to let fans in for the 2018 midterm elections, which showed us a selfie from outside their polling place on election night. We had some amazing artists participate that first year, like Playboi Carti, Jim James, My Morning Jacket, and Maggie Rogers. We were planning a big 2020. I was holding arenas in swing states when the pandemic hit, so we pivoted and produced the largest digital concert in history.
Over 450 artists participated, and fans had access to our election night stream with a selfie at home with their blank and unmarked ballot. We were fortunate to have Billie Eilish, Living Colour, and Trey Anastasio. We booked all that talent per data of what fans were listening to in swing states whose elections are often decided by the size of a concert venue. That’s my background in the shortest time I can give it.
You’ve done a lot. I wanted to ask about the internships because I know you’ve written a book about this. You did a lot of them. Did you do a lot of them in order to figure out, “What is the thing that I love to do,” or just to get a lot of things on your resumé?
It’s the first one. I was a ride or die music, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the field. I was on this quest to figure it out, but it ended up being the second option, which was great. I’m not doing much artist management anymore, but that ended up being a great background to become an artist manager because I could empathize with what it’s like on the other end of the phone or the inbox. Even with #iVoted Festival, all my years as a tour manager allowed me to deeply understand the economics behind the concert industry, which has allowed me to apply that to voter turnout. I would never have thought of that in my early twenties, but it’s amazing how these things can all come together later in life.
Especially for people who are looking to get into the music industry, they want to do music and don’t know which part of the industry. Do they want to be in live shows? Do they want to be in management? Do they want to be in recording? What I want to ask is, do you suggest musicians do that thing as well or is this more for people who are looking to work in the industry, but they’re not a musician?
It depends on their track and what they’re interested in. I’m not a talented musician at all. I was on an industry track. If someone is building their career as a musician, they should focus on that and put themselves out there as far as a pandemic or not, attending conferences, Zoom seminars, getting out to shows, especially in your community, and starting to get to know other artists. There are plenty of successful industry people that are talented musicians as well. There is a lot of great musicians that work at publishing companies. If a certain part of the industry interests you, you might want to try that because it’s something you might be interested in later in life. It depends on what your interests are. People should listen to their intuition on that.
You can learn a lot about the thing that you want to do. For example, you want to learn about the music licensing industry because you want to get licensed. You can do that by working as an intern for a company that is licensing a lot of music. I have a friend that did that. It can be grueling work because if you’re working as an intern, you’re processing contracts and stuff like that, but you can learn a ton.
Whether you’re a musician or not, you think licensing is awesome. You get your licensing internship, processes, and contracts, and you think that sucks. It’s as important at internships or volunteering to figure out what you don’t want to do and what turns you off as much as what you’re interested in doing.
I love all your experience with management, Amanda Palmer, and Zac Brown Band. I didn’t even know about that. I can imagine in 2007 and the 40 tickets in Nashville. Two years later, they were probably blowing up.
That was a wild experience. At Live Nation Artists, at this point, they were trying to sign every artist in the world. The first ones were Madonna, U2, and Jay-Z. Those were very large $150 million historical deals. They signed Zack for only $1 million and said, “Emily knows how to develop artists and use the internet. Let’s give this project to her.” I didn’t know anything about country music. I hadn’t seen him play live in person yet, but I saw some live clips on YouTube, and I was like, “This guy can play.”
There were college kids at the shows. This was 2008. There was a social network for country music that we focused on. I know my bosses wanted to incorporate brands into the strategy, but it was full-on. They were spending a lot of money on country radio. There were massive weekly calls with five people from the booking agency on it. I’m saying this off the record and off the cuff, but when Live Nation Artists fell apart, I’m pretty sure Zac was able to keep his $1 million and do a new deal with Atlantic. It worked out for him. He likes selling out stadiums at this point. He did everything right.
First and foremost, the music is great. It’s a killer live show. I didn’t like the food other than Cuban food. I live in New York now. Food is one of the reasons I live here, and Zac cooked for us. He barbecued for our team, and it was the best meal I had in Miami. He would do eat and greets instead of meet and greets. He has a whole line of Zac Brown barbecue sauces. He was developing a lot of that stuff early, and he does a great job connecting with his fans even though he’s playing stadiums.If there's a certain part of the industry that interests you, you want to try that because it's something you might be interested in later in life as well. It depends on what your interests are. Click To Tweet
That is what makes artists successful, whether they have this big backing or not because they meet fans on a personalized level. Let’s say that he was a total indie artist and didn’t have that $1 million backing from Live Nation. They weren’t going out doing all this stuff, country radio and all that. Do you think he would have eventually made it? Do you believe that artists like him that are super talented can make it outside of the industry?
I do. He would have had a strong and loyal live fan base, no matter what. Think of Dave Matthews Band. That’s how we’re positioning Zac Brown Band. That’s always how I have operated. If I love this music, that means someone else is probably going to love it. I’m not focused on hit songs, as weird as that might sound. I’m much more interested in building fan bases for the long-term.
He would have been able to do that, but you cannot take anything away from the five figures a month that was being spent at country radio. It’s almost impossible to get played on major radio, let alone country radio, without an equally major budget. Maybe he wouldn’t be playing stadiums, but he would have a theater-level career, which is ideal. You have your life, but you’re making good money and can do it forever.
I do too. I’ve been to a Zac Brown Band concert. It’s not doing the music as much justice as I would like. It was an indoor venue, and it was too big. It’s hard to have the amplification in a way that makes the music sound as good as it can.
It’s still cool. I don’t know if he’s still doing this. For people that can afford it, how rad it would be to have a meet and greet with one of your favorite bands?
Is this why you ended up writing the book to help musicians make money and keep all of their income streams? You saw the way that the world was moving. Zac Brown Band 2008, 2009 is a very different world from now, as far as what you can do as an indie artist. Most people are building their careers outside of radio nowadays.
I wrote it for two reasons. Musicians kept wanting to get coffee with me to pick my brain, and I was having the same conversation over and over. I was like, “Why don’t I write this down for everyone, and hopefully can help more people?” Pretty much every time we took on an artist at Collective Entertainment, we were finding money for them. I’m like, “If this is happening to National-Acts that people have heard of, what about everyone else?” It’s a straightforward guide. It takes artists through the modern music industry from recording to release or creation. It’s information that’s out there. I’ve never seen it put in order.
Considering the music industry was set up in the 1950s to confuse artists. If you’re teaching something out of order, that’s going to be super hard for this student and the educator. It’s a methodical step-by-step process. It’s under 140 pages. It came out in March 2020. I had very few people read it before it was out. It was just me. There has never been a social media ad or any promo. It has spread like wildfire. I always felt like if it helped one musician, I’m good. To see so many artists posting and sharing it with other artists is great. It warms my heart that it’s helping people.
What are some of the top income streams or money that artists lost that they didn’t realize that they could collect? I’m assuming some of these things have to do with royalties.
The number one missing revenue stream I see is music publishing. That is because when artists sign up for a performing rights organization, they need to create a publishing designee. Maybe your Bree Noble Music for your publishing designee, and understandably, songwriters then think like, “I’m good. ASCAP is collecting on my publishing for me.” You’ve created a publishing designee, but if your songs are being covered, streamed, sold, or any of the above, your performing rights organization is only part of your music publishing. I love Songtrust because they have democratized music publishing. Back in the day, you used to have to sign your rights away to have your music publishing collected. To define music publishing, it’s songwriting. It’s not anything to be terrified of and run to the hills over.
If you are signed up for your performing rights organization, ASCAP or BMI, and are not collecting on your music publishing in any other way, you are missing out on money. I like Songtrust because anyone can sign up for it, and you can also get out of it. Within three months, they don’t take any rights ownership or anything. That has revolutionized music publishing the way that TuneCore, DistroKid, and CD Baby have on the music distribution end. If you’re signed up for your PRO, please sign up for Songtrust or some music publishing equivalent so that you can get your music publishing fully collected.
Would they be considered a publishing administrator?
I know my audience. When they hear publishing, their head starts to spin, and their brain blows up. It is a big ball of wax, and there are lots of names that you don’t understand how they’re related to each other. People are like, “Should I have Songtrust? I have BMI.” I’m like, “That’s a different thing.” What are a couple of other income streams that you find that artists are not collecting on?
You are missing out on a lot of direct-to-consumer funds as well as the data that comes along with it. To me, the A-plus version is to start with a pre-order or Patreon and start monetizing your music while you’re making it. When it’s out, push your websites. To me, that’s the A-plus version where you’re going to collect the most money and the most data.
The next day it’s out. I would push Bandcamp. That’s where you’re going to get the second-highest profit margin and fan data for your long-term use. On the third day, push Spotify. You don’t need to push the streaming platforms and the DSPs. I get how addicting and tempting that is. You can continue to push out the additional DSP.
Start with Spotify, and the next day, be like, “My release is on Apple Music, and next week is TIDAL.” In that way, you’re continuing to promote your music without technically repeating yourself. I see too many people be like, “It’s on Spotify.” The website might not be as appealing to people. If that’s torture, do Bandcamp and the DSPs. That’s what’s going to be best for artists financially, and that’s how they’re going to collect the most data for their own long-term use.
I liked that because it is true that, in my opinion, the streaming platforms are mostly for discovery. I consume music there, but I discovered so many new artists through there. When your thing first comes out, you want to let your super fans know so they can support you. I’m a big fan of pre-orders, definitely Patreon, and when it first comes out, have a way for them to support you. At that point, it’s the people that want to support you.
I love Bandzoogle because you don’t have to pay commission to anyone. You get all the money. It’s easy to set up. You can do that or Bandcamp and let them know about the DSPs. The people that want to buy from you also want to connect with you on Spotify, especially if that’s where they’re already listening to music.
I hesitate to say this because I want artists to do what’s true to their release, but I know an artist that releases an album every year on his birthday. He has done a little experimenting, where a few years ago, he released it on his birthday. The next year, he played around with dripping out the tracks and having that lead into the release. For better or worse, Spotify algorithms loved that. If you can drip out your release, that’s going to feed into the playlist in that ecosystem.
I always recommend people release at least three singles before they release the full release because that’s like breadcrumbs. Not for your fans and people discovering you, but also the algorithm. Let’s talk about the Get Out The Vote thing. I was unaware of this because I live in California. People here vote, but we already know which direction our state is going. I love that your focus was the swing states, which is important. What even gave you the idea to do this?
I’m originally from Wisconsin, where the 2016 presidential election was decided by 23,000 votes unchanged. It was decided next door in Michigan by 10,000 votes unchanged. I read that voter turnout was down in Milwaukee, where I’m from. I was like, “Our basketball arena is 22,000. Why don’t we put together some compelling concert and tie in voting?” Since then, Billboard barely kindly pointed out that 65% of young people attend concerts, but 30% of young people vote. We’re trying to bridge that gap and do it by booking and programming artists that fans are actively listening to in those key states. For example, every year, my parents go to Irish Fest in Milwaukee. They come back and are like, “The Red Hot Chili Peppers are the most amazing band ever.”There are plenty of successful industry people that are really talented musicians as well. Click To Tweet
I wasn’t surprised that The Red Hot Chili Peppers were a top streaming act in Wisconsin. We booked them, and I had to hear from industry colleagues being like, “There’s a typo on your website.” I’m like, “This is who we booked.” It’s a small sample size, but my mom would be like, “My friends can’t believe Red Hot Chili Peppers is playing in your event.” It was an interesting mix. We had Billie Eilish and folks that people had heard of nationally, but it was interesting to dig into the data and metrics and see what people were listening to and where.
That is interesting, especially in those smaller areas. Being from Southern California, mine would be boring. It would probably be Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and all the normal people. That is so cool to think that they’ve got these little pockets of fans, especially if they’re doing a lot of live festivals and things there. What’s the structure around this? Is this nonprofit? Are you getting paid to do this, or is this volunteer?
Our C-Suite is 100% women. We assembled a team of over 250 volunteers that are 93% women, non-binary people of color, or LBGTQ plus. Statistically, we receive 5% of the funding we would receive if I were a cis-gendered White male. We’ve never had funding, but if you talk to me, that might be changing. I retired as an artist manager in May 2021 to focus on fundraising fully. We receive our nonprofit status. I’ve been taking some pretty high-level meetings that are going to come together for funding #iVoted Festival 2022. I’m going to make it happen hell or high water, but that’s what we could do with no budget. I can’t wait to show people what we can do with running a social media ad and paying ourselves and artists. It was a massive effort between our volunteers and the artists for 2022.
That bugs me that you said that it’s a lot harder for you to get funding because it seems like it should be easier. The government is always saying, “We’ve got these systems to help out these people,” but when it comes down to it, there isn’t a lot.
It’s challenging. I’ve been disappointed with our industry. I’ve had a lot of high-level colleagues be like, “What do you need funding for?” We’re talking to the founders of major festivals people have heard of. The attitude is like, ” Emily’s doing voter turnout.” I’ve gotten blunt and aligned with some folks outside of the music industry that see our vision and want to help us take it to the next level. Hopefully, that comes together.
This has all been great. I loved hearing your story and the evolution of your career. That’s going to be interesting to our readers. Is there any parting advice that you would like to give to indie artists who are reading?
I laid it all out in the book, but I feel obnoxious saying that. The book is also in podcast form, which is free. It’s How To Build A Sustainable Music Career And Collect All Revenue Streams podcast. I booked guests based on each chapter to bring each chapter to life. We’ve had folks like Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, Imogen Heap, and Kam Franklin from The Suffers work to their founder, Kevin Lyman and Donald Passman.
They helped me bring each chapter to life. We have an episode called How To Land a Sync Placement. That is one of my favorites with my friend, Lauren Ross from Terrorbird. That’s free wherever people listen to podcasts. It’s a journey, but if you want to jump around and pick and choose like, “I want to learn more about the sync stuff or publishing.” It’s all very clearly labeled and step-by-step for folks.
I agree that everyone should listen to all of it. I get that you want to learn about certain things, but they all work together. If you don’t know all the pieces, you’re going to be missing something as you’re doing that one thing. It’s important that you consume all of it.
I tried to define what things are and explain how people get money from it. There are whole books on music publishing. If you want to go into a deep dive and learn the name of every sub-publishing revenue stream, fine. I don’t think you have to do that. I want you to understand that music publishing is your songwriting and how to collect on it. That’s how the book is structured. If you want to go do a deep dive, feel free, but most artists don’t, and that’s challenging. I tried to lay it out as simple and straightforward as possible and how it can benefit them.
I know that publishing and copyright are a little bit different in different countries. Are you covering this based upon a US perspective? I know there are things like neighboring rights and stuff in other countries that we don’t necessarily do.
I’m American, and it comes from my perspective, but I did try to write it from a global perspective. We cover neighboring rights, finding your PRO that’s based in your country. I tried to speak as internationally as I could, but the podcast is also charted on 6 continents and listeners in 130 countries. I give the listeners credit for speaking English. I’m not taking credit like, “I’m this worldly person.” I did try to speak about things from a global perspective based on my touring experience and certain sensitivities or areas that I know about the global music industry.
Where can people find you on social media?
Thank you so much, Emily. This has been amazing and enlightening.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for everything that you do for women and artists. It’s an honor to be on your show.
- Collective Entertainment
- Interning 101
- #iVoted Festival
- CD Baby
- How To Build A Sustainable Music Career And Collect All Revenue Streams – Emily White Podcast
- How To Land A Sync Placement – Previous Episode
- @EMWizzle – Twitter
- Instagram – Emily White
- Facebook – Emily White
About Emily White
Emily White is a Founding Partner at Collective Entertainment and the Founder of #iVoted Festival, whose 2020 edition was the largest digital concert in history. She is the Amazon #1 best-selling author of How to Build a Sustainable Music Career and Collect All Revenue Streams and hosts the #1 Music Business podcast in America of the same name.